The Telegraph sits down with Sivan Magen

09 April 2014

Who is he?

Virtuoso Israeli harpist Sivan Magen conjures an astonishing range of colour and dynamic out of what is often thought of as a soft, salon instrument. Since winning the International Harp Contest in 2006 in Israel, the 34-year-old has lived in New York, though he's hardly ever there thanks to a busy schedule of concerto and recital dates. He often returns to Israel for concerts with the Israeli Chamber Project, which he co-founded.

 

How did he take up such an unusual instrument?

It's a mystery, because there was no fateful visit to a harp concert, and no harpists Magen's family. "I just knew I was made for this instrument," he says. "Perhaps I was rebelling a little against my parents, who were both professional cellists. I wanted to play something completely different, but I couldn't begin my musical studies on the harp, it wasn't practical aged seven. So I started on the piano. It was just a bit of fun, a way to get to know lots of music. When I turned to the harp I felt this was something really serious."

 

What attracted him to it?

"Well, not the ease of it, that's for sure! It's really not a natural instrument, compared to the piano. It took me a long time to feel close to it. What I value is the intimate contact with the sound. With the piano there are keys and hammers between the player and the strings, with the violin there is the bow. With the harp the sound is made directly with the fingers. I love that."

 

Why do we hear so little of the harp as a solo instrument?

Magen thinks this is due to the stereotyped image of the harp. "People think it is only suited to light salon pieces. In fact it has this incredible range of sound and colour. It can become very violent in sound, especially in modern music. There's also a problem with the small repertoire, and I'm trying to overcome that in two ways. I'm commissioning pieces, and also arranging pieces for other instruments, like the Brahms piano pieces on my CD. My ambition is to show what this wonderful instrument is really capable of."




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